Labour needs to make it unmistakeably clear that it is committed to keeping the country and its people safe, thereby snuffing out pacifist accusations, but also giving a context for the ensuing forensic argument. People must know we are prepared to defend the country. If Labour is not pacifist the only question is whether bombing Syria will advance or degrade safety – a pragmatic, and therefore a secondary issue. Jeremy’s objections are all valid except for one – that it increases the risk of attack at home. There is no doubt – the security services have sad so – that that is going to happen anyway.
It is impossible for one of the country’s two main political parties not to have a position on whether to go to war. What could be more fundamental? I see all the dangers to the Labour Party of a whipped vote – they are great and growing. However the yawning gap between the Leader and some Labour MPs is a political fact. If not confronted now when will it be?
The dangers of not having a view at all on peace or war are worse: it will be seen an abdication of leadership which, after all, is largely about managing difficulties. Labour will wriggle off this week’s dilemma only to postpone the reckoning. It must have a sense of direction, even if there is a rebellion. The Leader has rightly consulted and the result, I believe, has been decisive. Moreover there are large numbers of people outside the Party who are opposed, including Tories (the Mail, Matthew Parris) and people of no party. Who is to speak for them? The SNP? A free vote will make the Leader appear as his enemies portray him – an impotent sentimentalist, a new George Lansbury, ‘hawking his conscience about…’ as Ernie Bevin cruelly said. This is not an issue of conscience but of policy on the most fundamental question any country ever has to face.